This article was originally printed in the Epigram's travel section, 'Eden edition', with the title "Ecuadoor to Paradise" but I thought I might share it here too in case you were interested.
At first glance you could be forgiven for mistaking the Galápagos Islands for somewhere closer resembling purgatory than an idyllic island paradise. Roughly 1,000km off the coast of Ecuador, the unforgiving heat, ferocious hardened lava landscapes and ominous, smouldering volcanoes make many of the 19 islands in the archipelago seem like hell solidified - or at least something imagined in a post apocalyptic novel. Seemingly demonic creatures are abundant: Marine iguanas with their beady eyes and sharp claws eye you up as they sizzle on their volcanic sun-beds. Hammer heads and reef sharks are two of the 30 species which lurk not so out of sight in the depths of the surrounding Pacific. Aggressive and vocal pelicans bicker and fight with albatrosses over scraps of fish at the harbour on Santa Cruz. And worst - large and unafraid spiders scuttle noisily across the corrugated iron rooftops at night and wind up in your trainers by morning.
And yet few who visit these 'enchanted islands' fail to be moved by the experience. After being fortunate enough to spend three weeks working and traveling there I have come to understand why Darwin described the Galápagos as a "little world within itself". Snorkelling in the neon turquoise waters off Isabela Island I remember being awe struck by the colours and activity: big black fish with yellow lips and bright blue eyes dash past, enormous scarlet red starfish glint on the seabed next to others a vivid electric blue, impossibly graceful yet impressively large turtles float by. The diving on the Galápagos is rightfully famous, with over 500 species of fish, beautiful corals, 22 types of whale, fantastical and alien looking manta rays, dolphins and (bizarrely) penguins all pottering around in the waters with you. Not forgetting the unmissable presence of the sea lions, who are far from shy even on land as they lounge on pavements and benches.
This explosion of natural life, much of it found nowhere else on the planet, is complimented by the beauty of the clear night skies (supposedly you can see all of the constellations from your spot on the equator) which leave your mind boggling and the fabulous, intense sunsets which take your breath away. The locals are forever friendly and endlessly proud of their beautiful islands and are eager to give visitors tips on where to hike or swim or eat. One taxi driver, Freddy, spontaneously transformed into our personal tour guide and took us to the best place to see flamingos and where to watch the red throated frigate birds swooping to dip their wings in a collapsed volcano crater lake.
If you get the chance to visit these fabled isles - I urge you to take it. And even if natural history isn't your thing... There is nothing more blissful than sitting on a gorgeous mangrove lined beach, a book in one hand and a cocktail made from oranges you picked that day in the other, looking out across the clear, turquoise waters at the sea lions merrily dipping and diving and the finches swooping. I've been to paradise and I'm just longing to go back.
Here are some bonus Galapagos pictures: